« PreviousContinue »
exterior, and comprehensive creed of the Roman church, as to lead some of his biographers to suppose that he was himself a Roman Catbolic. This alloption, however, is to be attributed to the poetical nature of the materials which the doctrines of Rome supply, and more particularly w the food for imagination which the supposition of an intermediate state, in which the souls of the departed are still connected withi, and influenced by, the conduct of man, must necessarily create,
Such a system, it is evident, would very readily admit some of the oldest and most prevalent superstitions of the heathen world, and would give fresh credibility to the re-appearance of the dead, in order to reveal and to punish some horrible murder, to right the oppressed orphan and the widow, to enjoin the sepulture of the mangled corse, to discover concealed and ill-gotten treasure, to claim the aid of prayer and intercession, to announce the fate of kingdoms, &c. &c. Thus Iloratio, addressing the Spectre, alludes to some of these as the probuble causes of the dreadful visitation which appals him :
" Stay, illusion!
With a still higher degree of anxiety, curiosity, and terror, does Hamlet, as might naturally be expected, invoke the spirit of his father ;
his address being wrought up to the highest tone of amazement and emotion, and clothed with the most vigorous expression of noetry:
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. p. 21.
“. Angels and ministers of grace defend us !
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn’d,
The doubts and queries of this most impressive speech are similar to those which are allowed to be entertained, and directed to be put, by contemporary writers on the subject of apparitions. Thus the English Lavaterus enjoins the person so visited to charge the spirit to “ declare and open what he is—who he is, why he is come, and what he desireth ;” saying, — “ Thou Spirite, we beseech thee by Christ Jesus, tell us what thou art;" and he then orders him to enquire, 6 What man's soule he is ? for what cause he is come, and what he doth desire? Whether he require any ayde by prayers and suffrages ? Whether by massing or almes giving he may be released ?" &c. &c. f
In pursuance of the same judicious plan of adopting the popular conceptions, and giving them dignity and effect, by that philosophy of the supernatural which has been remarked as so peculiarly the gift of Shakspeare *, we find him employing, in these scenes of superhuman interference, the traditional notions of his age, relative to the influence of approaching light on departed spirits, as intimated by the crowing of the cock, and the fading lustre of the glow-worm. One of the
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. p. 70–74. Act i. sc. 4.
+ “ Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght," Parte the Seconde, pp. 106, 107. 4to. B. L., 1572. From the chapter entitled, “ The Papistes doctrine touching the soules of dead men, and the appearing of them.”
passages which have so admirably immortalised these superstitions, contains also another not less striking, concerning the supposed sanctity and protecting power of the nights immediately previous to Christmas-Day. On the sudden departure of the Spirit, Bernardo remarks,
u It was about to speak, when the cock crew.
Hor. And then it started like a guilty thing
Mar. It faded on the crowing of the cock.
say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
Fare thee well at once !"
exclaims the apparition on retiring from the presence of his son,
The glow-worm shows the matins to be near,
• Madame De Stael observes, “ there is always something philosophical in the supernatural employed by Shakspeare.” The Influence of Literature on Society, vol. i. p. 297.
t Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. pp. 22-25. Act i. sc. 1. # Ibid. pp. 86, 87. Act i. sc. 5.
This idea of spirits flying the approach of morning, appears from the hymn of Prudentius, quoted by Bourne, to have been entertained by the Christian world as early as the commencement of the fourth century*; but a passage still more closely allied to the lines in Shakspeare, has been adduced by Mr. Douce, from a hymn composed by Saint Ambrose, and formerly used in the Salisbury service. — “ It so much resembles,” he observes, “ Horatio's speech, that one might almost suppose Shakspeare had seen them :
“ The epithets extravagant and erring,” he adds, " are highly poetical and appropriate, and seem to prove that Shakspeare was not altogether ignorant of the Latin language.” I
With what awful and mysterious grandeur has he invested the Popish doctrine of purgatory! a doctrine certainly well calculated for poetical purposes, and of which the particulars must have been familiar to him, through the writings of his contemporaries. Thus the English Lavaterus, detailing the opinions of the Roman Catholics on this subject, tells us, that “ Purgatorie is also under the earth as Hel is. Some say that Hell and Purgatorie are both one place, albeit the paines be divers according to the deserts of soules. Furthermore
* Antiquitates Vulgares apud Brand, p. 68.-It has been observed by Mr. Steevens, that “this is a very ancient superstition. Philostratus, giving an account of the apparition of Achilles' shade to Apollonius Tyaneus, says that it vanished with a little glimmer as soon as the cock crowed.” Vit. Apol, iv. 16. Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. p. 25. note.
+ “ See Expositio hymnorum secundum usum Sarum, pr. by R. Pynson, n. d., 4to. fol. vij. b.”
| Illustrations of Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 201.
they say, that under the earth there are more places of punishment in which the soules of the dead may be purged. For they say, that this or that soule hath ben seene in this or that mountaine, floud, or valley, where it hath committed the offence: that there are particuler Purgatories, assigned unto them for some special cause, before the day of Judgement, after which time all maner of Purgatories, as well general as particuler shal cease. Some of them that the paine of Purgatorie is al one with the punishment of Hel, and that they differ only in this, that the on hath an end, the other no ende : and that it is far more easie to endure all the paynes of this worlde, which al men since Adam's time have susteined, even unto the day of the last Judgement, than to bear one dayes space the least of those two punishments. Further they holde that our fire, if it be compared with the fire of Purgatorie, doth resemble only a painted
From this temporary place of torment, he informs us, that, “ by Gods licence and dispensation, certaine, yea before the day of Judgement, are permitted to come out, and that not for ever, but only for a season, for the instructing and terrifying of the lyving:”—and again: Many times in the nyght season, there have beene certaine spirits hearde softely going who being asked what they were, have made aunswere that they were the soules of this or that man, and that they nowe endure extreame tormentes. If by chaunce any man did aske of them, by what meanes they might be delivered out of those tortures, they have aunswered, that in case a certaine numbre of Masses were sung for them, or Pilgrimages vowed to some Saintes, or some other such like deedes doone for their sake, that then surely they shoulde be delivered.” †
Never was the art of the poet more discoverable, than in the use which has been made of this doctrine in the play before us, and more
* “ Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght,” 1572. The seconde parte, chap. ii.
+ The seconde parte, chap. ii. p. 104.; and The first parte, chap. xv. p. 72.